Betrayal at House On the Hill:
Omen, Omen, Omen, Haunt!
In the last article, we discussed some of the good things and bad things that you might find while exploring the house. During the early stages of the game, there’s no point in sticking together -- just like in a horror movie, the best strategy is to split up and spread through the house, trying to collect as many useful items as you can while avoiding the traps.
Eventually, though, also like in a movie, someone will stumble across whatever is haunting the House on the Hill. We’ve made lots of references so far in these articles to the way the game gradually gets more tense after the Haunt is discovered. Now it’s time to show how that happens. The ticking clock that builds up to this moment is contained in the omen cards.
As with the Event and Item cards, an omen card is drawn whenever a character moves into a room with the raven omen symbol on it. Then you end your turn. Here’s the glowing omen symbol:
Most omens work pretty much like item cards, except that they usually can’t be lost or destroyed the way items can. Some of them raise traits, like the Holy Symbol and the Book. Other omens have more esoteric uses. You can gaze into the Crystal Ball to locate the precise item or room that you need, for instance. The Mask can bring great knowledge -- perhaps more than your mind can bear.
Some omens aren’t items, but rather encounters with other creatures that have wandered into the house -- or perhaps they were brought there for sinister purposes. These include a Girl, a Dog, and most disturbingly, a Madman. Some of these types of omens function as companions and can’t be dropped or traded.
There’s even an omen that works like a trap card. When you draw the Bite omen, a shadowy beast leaps out of the darkness, sinks its fangs into you, and disappears.
There are thirteen omen cards in all and thirteen rooms where omens can be found. It’s pretty unlikely, however, that your group will find them all. That’s because causing injury or providing bonuses to your traits aren’t the only things that omens do. Every omen card also contains the following text: "Make a Haunt roll, now." When you make a Haunt roll, you roll six dice. Then count the number of face-up omen cards currently showing on the table. A high roll is good -- it means that for now, at least, you haven’t come face to face with the horror yet. If you roll less than the total number of omens that are currently out, then the Haunt has begun! With each omen that is discovered, the moment when the horror is revealed grows closer.
When you roll under the total number of omens, it’s time to find out what’s going on in the house. Two essential books come with the game: the Traitor’s Tome and Secrets of Survival . When the haunt appears, it's time to get out those books.
The first thing you’ll see after opening the Traitor’s Tome is a chart. Along the top is a list of all 13 omen cards and along the side is a list of all 13 rooms that have the omen symbol on them. If you just rolled a Haunt, look at this chart and cross-index the last-drawn omen card with the room you were in when you drew it. This chart tells you two things: the identity of the Haunt you’re facing in this game and the identity of the traitor that will be controlling the house and monsters.
There are 169 entries on the chart but only 50 haunts. Each haunt can show up in more than one place.
In every Haunt, the traitor is determined in a different way. Sometimes the traitor is the person who drew the Omen card and made the Haunt roll but it might also be whoever has the highest or lowest value in a particular trait.
Another interesting case can come up as well. Remember a few articles back, when we mentioned that every character's card had a bunch of information on it that might seem unimportant at first? Well, it can be important now! If you’re playing young Peter Akimoto, whose favorite hobby is collecting bugs, and you’ve just discovered that the house is infested with giant preying mantises and cockroaches, then guess who’s decided that his newfound, mutant friends need to be kept nice and strong by chowing down on some human flesh?
Even with fifty different Haunts, it's possible to come up with the same one twice. The game includes rules that let you choose a different Haunt if your group has already played the one that was selected, so you can be sure of getting a different scenario every time you play the game. You’ll quickly discover, however, that with the different layouts of the house and the different characters in play, the same scenario can be completely different every time it’s played.
Once you know what the Haunt is and who the traitor is, the battle lines are drawn. It's time to start planning strategy. We’ll examine the situation from the new traitor’s point of view in our next article.
Bruce Glassco is a professor of English who has also been a gamer since the early ‘80s. His werewolf story, “Taking Loup,” was in the 1999 edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Other of Bruce's stories and poems have appeared in the magazines Realms of Fantasy and Weird Tales. House on the Hill is his first published game.
Catch up on any previews you missed!
©1995-2007 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Wizards is headquartered in Renton, Washington, PO Box 707, Renton, WA 98057.